Networked Nonprofits: Embracing Measurement Leads to Success

For nonprofit organizations there are two key processes that lead to tremendous success: to become networked, and to use measurement. The two books I’ve co-authored walks organizations through these critical processes: The Networked Nonprofit provides frameworks and recommendations for nonprofits to transform their organizational culture to embrace a new way of working, while the forthcoming Measuring the Networked Nonprofit helps nonprofit leaders take those first steps to measure the effectiveness of that transformation. If nonprofits take these ideas and put them into practice, they will be successful in an age of connectedness.

Being and Doing of Networked Nonprofits

Our conceptual framework divides the qualities of networked nonprofits into two categories: Being and Doing. These are illustrated in the table on the right. The items in the Being column are all different ways of working in a connected world. The Doing column is the tactical implementation. Becoming a networked nonprofit is not just about knowing which button to push or what technological wizardry to employ, but about embracing a whole new way of working as expressed in the Being column.

Becoming A Networked Nonprofit: The Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly Model

If there is one thing I’ve learned from working with many nonprofits in their quests to become networked nonprofits, it’s that slow, small steps work best. I like to call this approach “Slow Social Media,” to encourage nonprofits to slow down and be mindful of their practice. Learning to use social media and other emerging technology will only be successful if nonprofits take small, incremental, and strategic steps. Here is a model that incorporates four different levels of social media practice: Crawl, Walk, Run, and Fly. One level is not better than another, it is just where the organization is with respect to becoming a networked nonprofit.

It is important to note that it takes months, if not years, to reach the highest level of networked nonprofit practice. Bear in mind that even an organization like MomsRising, that was born as a networked nonprofit and has several years of social media experience, has not won dramatic victories over night.

The Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly hierarchy is designed to help organizations understand that becoming a networked nonprofit is typically a complex and lengthy process. Its purpose is to encourage and motivate organizations to succeed by helping them understand the nature of the process they are going through. This model is simply a method for organizations to figure out what type of measurement they are ready for.

Not every nonprofit will go through the levels at the same pace, as different organizations have different cultures, capacities, communication objectives, program designs, and target audiences. And the reality will be messy; an organization might not precisely fit the profile in any specific category. But every organization can take pride in their success at whatever level they have achieved.


Organizations that are in the “Crawl” stage of becoming networked nonprofits are not using social media or emerging technology at all, or if they are using it, they’re not using it consistently. These organizations lack a robust communications strategy or program plan that can be scaled using a networked approach. “Crawlers” are not just smaller nonprofits, but may include larger institutions that have all the basics in place, but lack a social culture or are resisting transforming from a command-and-control style to a more networked mindset.

These nonprofits need to develop a basic communications strategy or program plan. They will learn and benefit from inspiring stories like the ones we share in this book.

Perhaps your organization already has a robust program plan or communications strategy in place, but is facing challenges to adopting a networked way of working. If so, you should start with a discussion of the issues, followed by codifying the rules in a social media policy. The first measurement step at this level is setting up a listening process, and integrating listening on social channels into a program or communications planning research.


The nonprofit at the “Walk” stage is using one or more social media tools consistently, but this use isn’t linked to a communications strategy, campaign or program plan. They have in place best practices on tools and techniques as part of the organizational skill set, but may need assistance developing a social media strategy to support short and long-term SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time) objectives. They may also need help to correctly identify the audiences they need to target.

Walkers have internalized listening and are able to use the data they collect to improve engagement and implement best practices. At this stage, leadership may not fully understand social media and networked ways of working. Often, the question “What’s the value?” surfaces. The organization should implement a small, low-risk pilot that can collect stories and numbers to help leadership better understand the value and benefit and costs. The nonprofit in the “Walk” stage needs to avoid spreading the organization’s resources too thin. It should focus on one or two social media tools, going deep on tactics, and generating tangible results to demonstrate value.

“Walkers” must identify low-cost ways to build capacity internally, like using interns or volunteers effectively and integrating social media tasks into existing job descriptions. Staff members should evaluate current job tasks and identify what they don’t need to do in order to make time for social media and other emerging technologies, all with support from leadership. They must also enlist the help of their social networks outside their organization.

A “walking” nonprofit’s social media policy formalizes the value and vision for social media use and networked approach and encourages free agent outsiders to help with implementation. The organization integrates simple measurement techniques and learning as an organizational habit that helps improve practice.


The nonprofit at the “Run” stage uses one or more social media tools and is strategic, identifying key result areas and key performance metrics that drive everything they do. They also have a formal ladder of engagement and know how to measure it. They understand the importance of visualizing their networks and measuring their relationships.

In a “Running” organization, social media is not in a silo or guarded by one person or department. With a social media policy in place and a more social culture, the organization is comfortable with working transparently and working with people outside its organization, like free agents. They know how to use measurement to identify these influencers. The board is also using social media as part of its governance role.

The main problem for “Runners” is scaling. To build internal capacity they may need to bring on a half- or full-time staff person who serves as a community manager, building relationships with people on social media or new technology platforms. This social media point person also works internally as a network weaver or trainer to help departments and individuals use social media to support the organization’s programs.

“Runners” effectively integrate social media and emerging technologies such as mobile across all communications channels and know just the right combination of measurement tools to evaluate their performance. “Runners” have strong capacity in content creation as well as repurposing or remixing across channels. They use crowdsourcing to create and spread content. Runners also incorporate social fundraising as part of their fundraising tool box, knowing that community engagement is as important to measure as dollars raised.

For program strategy, Runners use crowdsourcing to help design pilots, generate feedback on an evaluation, or to rethink programs. They know how to measure the impact of the crowd. The organization has adequately engaged and built relationships with key influencers, whether organizations or individuals. The organization has codified and shared its program work flow and has made all program tools and materials available so its network can assist with implementation.


Organizations in the “Fly” state have mastered everything at the running stage and internalized it. Flyers create a culture of public learning for both individuals and the entire organization. They embrace failure and success alike, and learn from both. The organization uses data to make decisions, but leaders understand how to lead from the heart as well as the head. The organization has documented and shared dramatic results with its stakeholders and peer organizations. Flyers are part of a vibrant network of people and organizations all focused on social change.

Organizations in this category have adopted sophisticated measurement techniques, tools, and processes. This may include benchmarking, A/B testing, shared organizational dashboards, and linking results to job performances for larger institutions. Above all, measurement is not viewed as an afterthought, but as part of an ongoing decision-making process that helps the organization continuously improve its programs.

A networked nonprofit leverages the power of social media and working in a networked fashion to expand its network of supporters and thereby greatly increase its capacity and success. Becoming a networked nonprofit can be a slow process, but with patience your organization will realize the powerful benefits of this profound transformation.

Mastering Measurement and Learning Is the Next Leap

Successful networked nonprofits are using social media metrics and data intelligently to improve their decision-making and quantify success. Here are some of the many ways that networked nonprofits make the most of measurement:

They don’t just add up numbers—they measure their impact on the mission and organizational goals.

They value progress and measure results using insight, relationships, organization results, and social change outcomes.

They use key performance indicators to make decisions, to effect continuous process improvement, and to understand what works and what doesn’t.

They measure failure first. Learning from failure is like compost: while it might stink at first, it gets more valuable over time. It is also important to understand the cause of success, because it may have happened by accident.

They are experts at setting up and measuring low-risk experiments to test their strategy and tactics and learn from them.

They join the “Spreadsheet Appreciation Society,” filling their rows and columns with meaningful data, and avoiding bogus metrics like the plague.

They use data to set priorities and better juggle workloads.

If you are new to measurement, then the best way to get started is by doing simple pilot studies; those already experienced at measurement can try advanced measurement techniques. Networked nonprofits should continue to push the envelope in these important areas. Measurement can be fun. It gets results. It gives you greater control, makes you more powerful, and it will help you change the world.♦

Beth Kanter is a co-author of the forthcoming book Measuring the Networked Nonprofit and blogs at She can be reached at

Beth Kanter
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